When was the last time you lost $2,150? And because of a hole—not in your pocket, but in your stocking!
The Wells Fargo History Museum in San Francisco recently opened a new exhibit, “Women Making Financial History.” It interprets the many different roles women have played and are playing in the financial world: as bankers, as customers, as pioneers; even as images on currency. If you’re in town, I’d definitely recommend you check it out.
(But until then, take a look at the mini-site about the exhibit, sort of a “sneak preview.”)
One of the interesting stories on the site is one about how banks in the early 20th century accommodated the needs of their female customers. For hundreds of years women had typically been financially dependent on their husbands or family. It was in the late 19th century that a large number of women began to join the workforce, and therefore, gain economic power. Banks took notice, and they realized that women were a different type of customer. They needed and wanted to be treated differently.
Maybe even have a separate room to do their banking. I know, it sounds bad, right? But the reason is that many women didn’t trust banks. They had for years carried their valuables and money in their stockings or underneath their blouses. Imagine just how uncomfortable it would be, going to make a deposit and having to dig for your money in front of all the male bankers and the other customers! And, at a time when female propriety was often scrutinized, this wouldn’t be very ladylike.
But as Mrs. Shore found out when she lost $2,150 worth of jewels, through a hole in her stocking, it wasn’t the safest place for keeping valuables. Maybe a bank, with a little privacy, was less inconvenient than risky hosiery. Banks “got it” — the “stocking room” was created. Here was a special room, just for the ladies, where they could do their banking. And of course, ready their deposits in private.
Creation of the stocking room shows an interesting paradox: banks treated women differently on account of their sex, as society has for thousands of years. BUT, it also shows that society was beginning to value and better understand women’s economic importance. Banks were doing what they had to to gain women’s trust, and women’s business.
To me, the stocking room shows an interesting shift. Though it physically separated the sexes, its intention, strangely enough, was a step towards gender equality: women were being recognized for their financial power, and were being encouraged to join the banking world.
As a modern woman, I’m not sure how I feel about the need for a separate room to do my banking just because I’m female. But then, I don’t wear stockings full of jewels!